Heroes Season 4: A Time for New Beginnings

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It's a time for new beginnings in tonight's Heroes season premiere. After two seasons of steadily losing viewers, the show is out prove that it can be phenomenal again -- and I'm betting every new episode will pack a solid punch. Where does my confidence come from, you ask? To understand the show's renewed potential for greatness, we need to go back to the beginning.

Season 1 featured an easy-to-follow plot and a catchy one-liner that always brought the story back home: "Save the Cheerleader. Save the World." Whenever things got a bit too confusing, the hero Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) would earnestly chime in and remind his co-conspirators of the task at hand: Don't let anyone kill the girl who can't die. Everything wrapped up nicely, leaving viewers with just enough unanswered questions to come back for more.

But then -- as the superhuman characters ran wild, exploring their powers and independently trying to save the world -- the well-woven story became harder to keep track of. Every character had a personal agenda, and some of them completely fell off the map. Hiro's extensive time traveling got him stuck in ancient Japan, distancing him from his original quest to help Peter save the world, and the epic stories of his time travel were so divergent from the main story that they could have been a whole 'nother show. Things continued this way for two more seasons -- and it was hard not to breathe a sigh of relief when Volume Four concluded and some of the more complicated plotlines finally ended.

Through those two rough seasons, ardent fans have stuck around, insisting that the plot complications would resolve themselves. And by golly, after talking with a few of Heroes' stars -- including Masi Oka and Hayden Panettierre -- Season 4 is looking promising. Not just passable; I'm talkin' Season 1 levels of good, folks.

The introduction of Prison Break's Robert Knepper as Samuel Sullivan, a power-endowed villain, will take a bit of the pressure off Sylar (Zachary Quinto) to be a badass 24/7. So what can we expect from Knepper's character? "I could have [played the role as] a typical carnival barker, but went with a Keith Richards persona," Knepper said in an interview with TV.com. With that in mind, I feel comfortable saying that an episode without Sylar doing something truly demonic and sadistic can still be exciting.

Oh, and: There will be a girl-on-girl kiss. Off-to-college Claire and her new roommate Gretchen (Madeline Zima) will get up to a fair amount of freshman-year mischief this season. During a chat with Panettierre last week, the actress explained her character's relationship with Gretchen: "It's a very interesting relationship because there's a little bit of a flirting with the whole: Are we friends? Are we more? Do I have feelings for you in that way?" Panettierre finished her statement by singing a line from Katy Perry's recent hit: "I kissed a girl and I liked it!"

In addition to Claire's lesbian encounter, Heroes will take another interesting turn this fall: Hiro is fatally ill and looks too weak to time travel. So the new question is: Who will spread the message through time and space to "save the cheerleader, save the world?"

Season 4 Extended Preview

The two-hour season premiere of Heroes airs tonight -- Monday, September 21 -- at 8 pm on NBC

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